Management Culture and Human Dignity

The culture of modern North America is a management culture. That culture has its roots deep in the enlightenment and the emergence of the human as an autonomous, independent center of power, meaning, and authority. American Christianity, particularly in its United Methodist form, is indigenous to North American society and fully participates fully in this management culture.

The need for a management culture emerges with the post-enlightenment self-understanding of humanity. Indeed, despite the rise of a competing romantic culture of intuition and the occasional re-emergence of nihilism, management culture is the only culture through which humans appear to be able to confidently exercise the complete power and authority they have abrogated to themselves in order to continue to order their lives toward mere survival as a species.

The evidence of a management culture in the church is pervasive, as is the culture. An obsession with measurement and statistics, the only means by which humans as such can escape superstition and intuition, grips the episcopal leadership. Pastors and lay leaders in local congregations define their roles as managers by spending most of their time in goal setting, strategizing, planning, and finally implementing programs. Congregations themselves are organized primarily to purvey social and personal management programs to their own members and the broader society.

But nowhere is management culture more strangely at work than in worship, which like every other program of the church has become one of the many strategies deployed by a congregation to reach its management goals.

In its most respectable form this management of worship asserts that the goal of worship is to transform human persons so that they will better serve their fellow human beings. “All worship ends in service.” In its least respectable form the management of worship aims at marketing the church experience as a combination of theo-therapy, entertainment, and motivational speaking for every possible demographic niche in our American market.

Either way worship is an activity planned by humans to affect humans in specific ways to achieve humanly conceived goals. The simple praise and worship of God isn’t enough, for worship ultimately ends up directing our attention back to humans and human needs.

So wrapped are we in our human autonomy it is hard to imagine how we might escape the gift and demand of being managers of our society and destiny. Does not every human action begin with a human decision? Does not the failure to act or plan simply make us vulnerable to the manipulation by those who do? Perhaps. So in the seven day a week church we end up dragging Monday into Sunday.

Yet perhaps we should imagine a human decision that gives us a human dignity of a different order than that offered by our management culture. Perhaps we should keep a sabbath from the work of management.

We can decide to sit in silence and await God’s voice like the Quakers, or conform to ancient liturgies that have shaped humans across vastly different cultures instead writing our own, or submit to the rise of untamed emotions elicited by (even our own!) hot preaching, loud music, and tightly packed crowds. We can yield to a code of righteousness that we did not create and we do not fully understand. We can at the very least stand in the midst of vast human suffering and the terrible destructive power of nature and shake our fists at God and lay our justifiable claims as creatures upon our Creator.

Far better this last than our pious muttering “thy will be done:” which far from being a submission to God’s sovereignty has become a feeble replacement for a robust amen and a sign of either the ludicrousness of our theology of prayer or the poverty of our faith.

We can decide to quit managing; to acknowledge who we really are as humans on the sabbath created for us. We can take a sabbath from being in charge of everything, and with God, rest.

Of course, when we keep the sabbath it should be in the full knowledge that the pioneer and perfecter of our faith did so as well. His preparation began in the garden of Gethsemane. We know how it ended. He did indeed become the victim of those who never gave up managing.

So the risk abounds that if we do not manage ourselves and our world, we will be managed. Yet if we want to rise to a different level of human dignity than that offered by managing our way to survival and success, Jesus offers the way to be lifted up.

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